Friday 31 January 2014

Divisions deepen, the gulf widens - contrasting statements indeed

From GAFCON today on advice recently proffered by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York [here]
" This week, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York sought to remind the leadership of the Anglican Communion and the Presidents of Nigeria and Uganda of the importance of friendship and care for homosexual people.

Christians should always show particular care for those who are vulnerable, but this cannot be separated from the whole fabric of biblical moral teaching in which the nature of marriage and family occupy a central place.

The Dromantine Communiqué from which the Archbishops quote also affirmed (Clause 17) the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution 1.10 which states that ‘homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture’ and that the conference ‘cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions’.

Yet earlier this week, the English College of Bishops accepted the recommendation of the Pilling Report for two years of ‘facilitated conversation’ because at least some of the bishops could not accept the historic teaching of the Church as reaffirmed in the Lambeth resolution.

Indeed, in making the case for such a debate, the Pilling Report observes ‘In the House of Lords debate on same sex marriage, the Archbishop of York commended that the Church needed to think about the anomalies in a situation where it is willing to bless a tree or a sheep, but not a faithful human relationship.’  The anomaly only exists of course if it really is the case that a committed homosexual union can also be Christian.  
The good advice of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York would carry much more weight if they were able to affirm that they hold, personally, as well as in virtue of their office, to the collegial mind of the Anglican Communion. At the moment I fear that we cannot be sure.
Regrettably, their intervention has served to encourage those who want to normalize homosexual lifestyles in Africa and has fuelled prejudice against African Anglicans. We are committed to biblical sexual morality and to biblical pastoral care, so we wholeheartedly stand by the assurance given in the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution that those who experience same sex attraction are ‘loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ.’ 
May God in his mercy grant that we may hold to the fullness of his truth and the fullness of his grace."
 From TEC yesterday [here]
"The Episcopal Church has been clear about our expectation that every member of the LGBT community is entitled to the same respect and dignity as any other member of the human family.  Our advocacy for oppressed minorities has been vocal and sustained.  The current attempts to criminalize LBGT persons and their supporters are the latest in a series, each stage of which has been condemned by this Church, as well as many other religious communities and nations. 
Our advocacy work continues to build support for the full human rights and dignity of all persons, irrespective of gender, race, national origin, creed, sexual orientation, physical and mental ability or inability.  To do less is effectively to repudiate our membership in the human community.  No one of God’s children is worth less or more than another; none is to be discriminated against because of the way in which she or he has been created. Our common task is to build a society of justice for all, without which there will never be peace on earth.  Episcopalians claim that our part in God’s mission is to love God fully, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.  That means all our neighbors."

Thursday 30 January 2014

GAFCON leader's pastoral letter

Dated the 29th January, the letter of Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, the Primate of Kenya and Chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council, can be read here

Readers in Britain will be particularly struck by the comments directed to the recent Church of England College of Bishops' decision to promote facilitated discussions on human sexuality following the report of the Pilling Committee:
"Earlier this week, the English College of Bishops met to reflect upon the ‘Pilling Report’, commissioned to reflect on how the Church of England should respond to the question of same sex relationships. Its key recommendations were that informal blessings of such unions should be allowed in parish churches and that a two year process of ‘facilitated conversation’ should be set up to address strongly held differences within the Church on this issue.
While we should be thankful that the College of Bishops did not adopt the idea of services for blessing that which God calls sin, it did unanimously approve the conversation process and this is deeply troubling.  There has been intensive debate within the Anglican Communion on the subject of homosexuality since at least the 1998 Lambeth Conference and it is difficult to believe that the bishop’s indecision at this stage is due to lack of information or biblical reflection. The underlying problem is whether or not there is a willingness to accept the bible for what it really is, the Word of God.
At Lambeth 1998, the bishops of the Anglican Communion, by an overwhelming majority, affirmed in Resolution 1.10 that homosexual relationships were not compatible with Scripture, in line with the Church’s universal teaching through the ages, but the Pilling Report effectively sets this aside. The conversations it proposes are not to commend biblical teaching on marriage and family, but are based on the assumption that we cannot be sure about what the bible says. 
I cannot therefore commend the proposal by the College of Bishops that these ‘facilitated conversations ‘ should be introduced across the Communion. This is to project the particular problems of the Church of England onto the Communion as a whole. As with ‘Continuing Indaba’, without a clear understanding of biblical authority and interpretation, such dialogue only spreads confusion and opens the door to a false gospel because the Scriptures no longer function in any meaningful way as a test of what is true and false ..."
We might agree with the suspicion that in the past, on issues dear to the hearts of doctrinal revisionists in the Anglican Communion, 'facilitated discussions', 'indaba groups' - or whatever term is currently being employed - have been used as simply another means of pursuing the ongoing and seemingly inexorable liberal agenda. Discussion and reflection have been, too often, part of a one way process. 

However, where some of us may wish to differ from the GAFCON letter is that, if such reflection on the theology of human sexuality is to be done at all,  the arguably much needed conversation, certainly in response to, if not in agreement with, changing social attitudes in some parts of the world, should take place in an ecumenical context, globally cross-cultural and as far removed as possible from the strident lobbying and manipulative emotionalism of the contemporary ecclesial anglosphere and, accordingly, must include and welcome the insights and contributions of the great apostolic Churches of East and West.
All too often in recent years western Anglicans have betrayed our historic claims by behaving as if we were the Universal Church, rather than just a small (and, in the West, declining) part of it.  Responsible theological reflection on these issues, as opposed to irresponsible unilateralism, is a duty we owe to ourselves and to the whole Body of Christ. 
If theological reflection on the subject of sexuality is not merely a underhand means of pursuing radical change who could possibly object to that? 

King Charles the Martyr - the tyranny of parliaments ...?

The trial of King Charles I: an excerpt from the television series, By the Sword Divided

A question uppermost in many minds, particularly after the recent decision to attempt to redefine the nature of marriage and the unfolding consequences of previous equalities legislation, concerns the limits of legitimate parliamentary authority. Who does stand up for the ancient liberties of British subjects in a 'democratic' era in which the rights of unfashionable minorities are increasingly disregarded and in which the ancient checks and balances of tradition and historical memory are held in contempt? 

Today's anniversary reminds us that we have seen the tyranny of parliaments before in our history; we must all hope that the contemporary appeal, in the name of equality, to  a crassly majoritarian and potentially repressive approach to democratic government will be equally short lived .....


Tuesday 28 January 2014

S. Thomas

For the feast day of  S. Thomas Aquinas, his great eucharistic hymn, Adoro te devote, sung by the monks of Prinknash Abbey

Martin Travers: Pictures of the English Liturgy (1916)

....The door swung easily open
(Unlocked, for these parts, is odd)
And there on the South aisle altar
Is the tabernacle of God.
There where the white light flickers
By the white and silver veil,
A wafer dipped in a wine-drop
Is the Presence the angels hail,
Is God who created the Heavens
And the wide green marsh as well
Who sings in the sky with the skylark
Who calls in the evening bell,
Is God who prepared His coming
With fruit of the earth for his food
With stone for building His churches
And trees for making His rood.
There where the white light flickers, 
Our Creator is with us yet .....

from 'A Lincolnshire Church' - John Betjeman

Monday 27 January 2014

C of E bishops respond to Pilling

The bishops of the Church of England (most of them, anyway) have issued this statement in response to the Pilling Report. 
Our prayers for them as they try - desperately, that much is evident: this is now a deeply split ecclesial community on these issues - to square the circle....

I don't want to be overly critical, but one might have thought, to say the least,  the second and third paragraphs of the statement should have been reversed ...  and it comes as hardly a revelation that the bishops' instinctive and defensive response seems to be a genuflection to contemporary mores and a parrotting of current, secular, shibboleths (sigh ...)  
After all, what else can a House divided (see paragraph five) do ...?
"The College of Bishops met on 27th January, 2014 to begin a process of reflection on the issues raised by the Pilling Report (GS 1929). The College expressed appreciation to Sir Joseph Pilling and to all members of the working party for the work they have done on behalf of the Church. 
We are united in welcoming and affirming the presence and ministry within the Church of gay and lesbian people, both lay and ordained.  We are united in acknowledging the need for the Church to repent for the homophobic attitudes it has sometimes failed to rebuke and affirming the need to stand firmly against homophobia wherever and whenever it is to be found.  
We are united in seeking to be faithful to the Scriptures and the tradition of the Church and in seeking to make a loving, compassionate and respectful response to gay men and women within Church and society.  
We recognise the very significant change in social attitudes to sexuality in the United Kingdom in recent years.

We recognise also the strongly held and divergent views reflected in the Pilling Report, across the Anglican Communion and in the Church of England. We acknowledge that these differences are reflected also within the College of Bishops and society as a whole...."  [continues] 

27th January

Today is the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. However we chose to mark it,  we could do worse than reflect on words spoken by Pope Benedict XVI on his visit to Auschwitz in 2006:
"....All these inscriptions speak of human grief, they give us a glimpse of the cynicism of that regime which treated men and women as material objects, and failed to see them as persons embodying the image of God.  Some inscriptions are pointed reminders.  There is one in Hebrew.  The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth.  Thus the words of the Psalm: “We are being killed, accounted as sheep for the slaughter” were fulfilled in a terrifying way.  Deep down, those vicious criminals, by wiping out this people, wanted to kill the God who called Abraham, who spoke on Sinai and laid down principles to serve as a guide for mankind, principles that are eternally valid.  If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God who spoke to humanity and took us to himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone - to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world.  By destroying Israel, by the Shoah, they ultimately wanted to tear up the taproot of the Christian faith and to replace it with a faith of their own invention: faith in the rule of man, the rule of the powerful...

 ".....Yes, behind these inscriptions is hidden the fate of countless human beings.  They jar our memory, they touch our hearts.  They have no desire to instil hatred in us: instead, they show us the terrifying effect of hatred.  Their desire is to help our reason to see evil as evil and to reject it; their desire is to enkindle in us the courage to do good and to resist evil.  They want to make us feel the sentiments expressed in the words that Sophocles placed on the lips of Antigone, as she contemplated the horror all around her: my nature is not to join in hate but to join in love ..."
The full text is here: we should take it all to heart

A French video displaying the names of children deported to the death camps uses the opening movement of Henryk Gorecki's Third Symphony (Symfonia pieśni żałosnych - Symphony of Sorrowful Songs) 

So today (as well as being the old feast day of St John Chrysostom and, appropriately, given one of my names, my birthday) is now observed as Holocaust Memorial Day. The Church in Wales lectionary tells me so in no uncertain terms. 
To digress for a moment: however valuable these special international days of observation may or may not be, I'm not sure it's really the business of a lectionary to inform me of them - there are other sources of information if we need a little guidance for our personal or our liturgical prayers ...  

And alas for my own poor part of the Church, becoming so accommodating to the zeitgeist that (in the words put into the mouth of Thomas More by Robert Bolt in The Man for All Seasons) it gives the impression that it couldn't answer for itself 'even as far as tonight.' 
In itself,  this unthinking habit of secularisation from within - even in seemingly harmless or even 'humanitarian' ways - should be reason enough to terrify us: on what ground will we be able to stand when the next great crisis for humanity comes along ..... as it undoubtedly will? These catastrophes never come in the same way, but their inspiration is always from the same source ...

Saturday 25 January 2014

The present state of things ...

A couple of stories which offer some clue as to where we might be heading:

The Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes suggests a refashioning of the Church's calendar from Advent to Lent [here] so that it might follow a simpler and straightforward 'dramatic narrative' - presumably, as in a popular novel...  no jumping around with the sequence of events; the target audience, poor things, won't be able to cope with it. By way of contrast, the Evangelists themselves were considerably more sophisticated.
Never mind, of course, liturgical scholarship and the complex layers of meaning and symbolism which would be sacrificed in the process of such an act of patronising vandalism. Never mind that it would put us out of step with Catholic Christendom and the tradition of the ages: we must always refashion ourselves to passing western social trends - where have we heard that kind of misguided and toxic unilateralism before? Arrogance and ignorance combined make a lethal cocktail ....
More amusing but revealing of our present crisis is the comment made by someone on her blog which suggests that fasting could be moved to January because that's when everyone else is doing it.
On that basis, let's hear read the gospels of the call of the Apostles by the shore of the Sea of Galilee in August when, after all, most people are at the beach ...  the possibilities are endless...  Any suggestions?

Lord Carey of Clifton, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, considers the work of ARCIC to be an irrelevance to most Christians [here] He's probably right, but should acknowledge some considerable  share of the responsibility for having made it so ....

Charpentier: Te Deum

For today's Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul, Marc-Antoine Charpentier's setting of the Te Deum - in full - performed by  Le Poème Harmonique under the direction of Vincent Dumestre. A particularly fast and joyously 'jazzy' tempo for the prelude - delicious! 

Friday 24 January 2014


"A tree gives glory to God by being a tree. For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him. It 'consents' so to speak, to his creative love. It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore a tree imitates God by being a tree.
The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like Him… It it tried to be something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like God and therefore it would give him less glory
No two created beings are exactly alike. And their individuality is no imperfection. On the contrary, the perfection of each created thing is not merely in its conformity to an abstract type but in its own individual identity with itself.
This particular tree will give glory to God by spreading out its roots in the earth and raising its branches into the air and the light in a way that no other tree before or after it ever did or will do…. 
For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self. 
Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied. 
With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like. We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face. But we cannot make these choices with impunity. Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them. If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it! 
Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny….
The seeds that are planted in my liberty at every moment, by God's will, are the seeds of my own identity, my own reality, my own happiness, my own sanctity…."
Thomas Merton: Seeds of Contemplation

Or, to put it another way ..... 

"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Chríst — for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces."

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Thursday 23 January 2014

News & views: updates

Some required reading:

Ancient Briton [here] is quite right about the scandal of TEC and its unchristian mania for pursuing traditionalists through the courts at exorbitant cost - funds which should be directed towards the needy. And our leaders seem to want to emulate that? They would say quite sincerely that they don't, but it is the inevitable consequence of illiberal revisionism: all else follows once we cast off the moorings of orthodoxy.

Catholicity and Covenant (and Rod Dreheron 'Why Church is meant to be difficult' 
".... What should be the case, however, is that Christian faith invites, attracts, offers meaning and purpose, enchants, and provides a community of fellow pilgrims to accompany us on the Way. 
Striking this balance between openness/welcome and depth/meaning is key.  'Accessibility' does not - as it is currently understood - strike this balance, as it is often used as justification to lessen mystery and challenge ...."
Dr Oddie at The Catholic Herald on the strange and (for those of us who long to see social harmony across faiths and cultures) worrying silence of the 'peaceable Muslim majority' [here] Sometimes wishful thinking on our part doesn't further the cause of understanding .
I seem to remember the great (and much missed) Pope Benedict getting into trouble with the world's media for daring to ask similar questions ... although, of course, more subtly - lost on most commentators in our tabloid world, naturally ....
This is Cranmer on the same subject.
Of course, fear of losing the British Muslim vote is precisely the reason our 'democratic' politicians (if they care in the slightest)  won't be at all straightforward about this ...  

Going with the theme of subtlety, Fr John Hunwicke [here] pursues the case of St Chad, 're-ordination' and all its attendant problems in terms of the Anglo-Catholic conscience. It will be very interesting to see his line of argument as it develops ...

Our future made visible? George Conger on the crisis of Washington's heterodox 'National Cathedral.' [here]

Wednesday 22 January 2014

The '60s revisited?

It seems to be becoming clearer by the day that 1960s theological reductionism is making a comeback - and, alas, not only in the Anglican world, where it never really went away. . [here and elsewhere]
It's all highly regrettable and crudely insulting to perhaps the clearest thinker of them all, now retired.

Of course, the other point is that it isn't true, doesn't take into account the realities of human nature and the spiritual needs of mankind, and, in consequence, doesn't work ...

Tuesday 21 January 2014

Today is the feast day of St Agnes - hares limping through the frozen grass and all that - but that was last night, according to John Keats
Here, it was a fine and mild winter's day until nearly three o'clock when the rain swept in from the west - again .....

This is more Keatsian than my present reality: Morten Lauridsen's 'She tells her Love while Half Asleep' from Mid-Winter Songs - a setting of words by Robert Graves:

Monday 20 January 2014

Imitate, devour, recreate ...

Sherlock Holmes is no longer the property of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle but the character is now in the 'public domain' an American court says 
Writing on the subject, Peter Hitchens gets it right [here] about the value of contemporary television and its 'postmodern' laziness: 
"...You begin, just begin, to enter into the imagination of one of  the greatest of all Victorians. Those of us who still read, rather than leave our literature to the TV , will always have this (and Jeremy Brett)  to fall back on. But it is a shame about everyone else. TV first imitates, then devours , then recreates in its own image. ..."

The problem, of course, is that those who make programmes these days (and those who run the show in more disciplines than one) can see through everything, have a breathtaking sense of self worth and entitlement, but actually know very little ....

"..first imitates, then devours , then recreates in its own image."  - to what else could that apply ....?

And for those of us who think that 'Sherlock'  is vacuous and crude 21st century pastiche, and agree that Jeremy Brett is the definitive Holmes - 'The Sign of Four'

Claudio Abbado

It was announced today that the great conductor Claudio Abbado has died at the age of 80
May he rest in peace,  and may his musical legacy and his recordings continue to enrich our lives .....

Saturday 18 January 2014

Women Bishops in the Church of England - the latest drafts

The publication of the Church of England's draft House of Bishops’ Declaration and
Resolution of Disputes Procedure Regulations is given a cautious welcome by Forward in Faith here
However, the statement goes on to say: 
"...It is essential that an acceptable way of proceeding in relation to the consecration of Traditional Catholic bishops is agreed before the legislation is referred to the dioceses. Resolution of this outstanding matter is crucial for the acceptability of the package as a whole....."

Friday 17 January 2014

It is he who made the Pleiades and Orion .....

A stunning new image of  the Pleiades (Robert Fields and Terry Hancock)

It is he who made the Pleiades and Orion,
who turns the dusk to dawn
and the day to darkest night.
He summons the waters of the sea
and pours them over the land.
The Lord is his name.   

(Amos 5.8)

A few pilgrimage reflections

I suppose trudging through wet fields in mist and heavy drizzle with a raging headache and sore throat - the dog still has to go out - has the effect of calling to mind warmer and sunnier paths from earlier in the year. Maybe indisposition, not to say my being infectious, will at least mean I will get around to writing up my now almost indecipherable notes from the Camino de Santiago.
Perhaps it's the 'January effect' in this rather damp and sometimes depressing climate which has prompted this, but quite often along the pilgrimage route it was suggested in conversation that perhaps the reason the Church's message falls so often on deaf ears in our present, very affluent and very comfortable culture (certainly compared to that of our not-so-distant forbears) is that we seem so very compromised and even reliant on the very philosophies about which we express so much scepticism if not outright opposition. My own fairly gentle counter-suggestions that it is very hard sometimes for Christians to get the balance right between being 'in' and involved in the world and being merely 'of' it usually prompted, from those who didn't share the faith, just a shrug of the shoulders as if to say, 'Well, it's your problem, get on with it.' 

There were so many setting out along that particular ancient pilgrimage route through Northern Spain who were clearly searching for meaning and purpose, and walking in order to cope with crises of many kinds in their lives. 
And along the Way there were many open churches, some of which brought this particular weary pilgrim to his knees and to tears on more than one occasion. 
In many places, particularly closer to Santiago itself, there were masses and pilgrim blessings - if you looked for them. In one or two villages the Benedictines and Franciscans provided a valuable and clearly appreciated presence; I particularly remember with gratitude the sung offices at Rabanal; there were unforgettable instances of great kindness and individual hospitality. 

Wednesday 15 January 2014

Egypt - from a Christian perspective

While most of the Western media still seems to think (worryingly) that 'democracy' is purely about upholding the will of the majority and seems to regret the Muslim Brotherhood's spectacular fall from power at the hands of the military, here from Bishop Mouneer Anis is another perspective on Egypt's ongoing crisis: 
Voting and Dancing: Egyptians write their Future 
 Once again, the Egyptian people have surprised the world.  Yesterday was the first day of the Referendum on the new Constitution of Egypt.  The supporters of the former President Mohammed Mursi called people to boycott the Referendum.  Surprisingly enough, yesterday millions of people went to the polls to vote and they are still voting today!  Going to the polls was risky because of those who were trying to use violence to scare people from voting, but the army and the police exerted a great effort to protect the polls and to give assurance to the people who would like to vote. 
Egyptians Vote and CelebrateUnlike the previous Constitution that was written under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, the new Constitution affirms equality and the rights of women within the Egyptian society.  It was a phenomenon to see crowds of women at each poll, many of whom queued for hours to vote.  Some of them were singing and rejoicing, and even dancing, before and after they cast their vote.  There was a general spirit of joy among the people of Egypt who voted, in a way that never happened before.  We, alongside other Christian denominations, encouraged the people of Egypt to fulfill their civil duty to vote and to pray for the future of Egypt. 
Egyptian VoteAll of this is a message to those who called the 30 June 2013 Revolution a “military coup.”  The same millions of people who went out in the streets that day, also went to vote yesterday and today.  It is also an indirect support of the Road Map that was announced on 3 July, the day of the removal of the former President.
images.jpgخخ The Road Map, designed by different streams of politicians as well as the Grand Imam of Al Azhar and Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church, formed an interim government and appointed a Committee of 50 (representatives of all sectors of the society) to write the new Constitution.  The interim government, after the Referendum on the Constitution, will prepare for Parliamentary and Presidential elections.  Many voters carried the photos of Field Marshall al-Sisi, the Minister of Defense, in an attempt to persuade him to run for the presidency.  This is because al-Sisi was the one who responded to the request of the millions of demonstrators on 30 June who called for early Presidential elections and the removal of the former President. 
 The new Constitution affirms the rights of citizenship, and prohibits all forms of discrimination.  It has clauses that ensure the development of education and health care for every citizen.  It allows the freedom of worship and the building of churches, and Article 3 gives the right for non-Muslims (Christians and Jews) to resort to their canon laws in regard to civil issues. 
 I can see my beloved country standing on the doorstep of a new day.  Do pray that the hopes and dreams of millions of people, of a more settled, secure and democratic country, will be fulfilled. 
 May the Lord bless you!  
 + Mouneer Egypt                 

Monday 13 January 2014

A few news links

Thanks to Streams of the River  for the link to Alice Linsley's Just Genesis blog -  fascinating research from someone with an interesting (and prophetic?) history

Alex Salmond, would-be leader of an independent Scotland, seems to be morphing into Hugo Chavez [here and here] There is always a sinister side and a huge price to pay in terms of personal liberty for the tribal thrills of political nationalism, whether of left or right.

Fr Ray Blake preaches on the Baptism of the Lord and the dangers of reducing sacraments to mere psychological rituals [here

'A welfare state with its moral heart ripped out' - Peter Hitchens in typically trenchant style [here]. I'm not sure about his support for the death penalty (far better to be consistent across the board in one's respect for human life) but he is surely right about the British liberal establishment's support for bloody foreign adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq (where the huge civilian death toll during and after the conflict was put down to - appalling phrase - 'collateral damage') and their  'non-judgemental' approach to social welfare which has led to the abandonment of fatherless inner city youth to violent gang culture. 
This is yet another instance where so-called 'progressive' reform just means that 'It's the rich what gets the pleasure, it's the poor what gets the blame.' What used to be known as 'bourgeois' (i.e. Christian) morality, derided for so long by fashionable opinion formers in the West, actually protects those without much economic wherewithal from the consequences of social breakdown and, by strengthening traditional family stability, helps advance educational and social mobility, something under increasing threat from the new and, seemingly, socially elitist advocates of the 'equalities' agenda. 

Closer to home, Ancient Briton on the Code of Practice consultations in the Church in Wales. Open meetings are, I suppose, fine as part of a genuine listening process; my particular fear is that they will be more of a drowning out exercise where the views of the (not insignificant) minority will be shouted down by the far from tolerant supporters of doctrinal revisionism ... 
On that subject, usually reliable sources have it that in one period of interregnum in the Province, the parish concerned has been told, 'yes, we'll keep everything going but there will have to be women celebrants at the altar' - this in a parish which has consistently supported WO: those who assert so loudly that sacramental provision for traditionalists would create 'second class bishops' should be able to look to those who are supposed to be on their side for a little consistency ...... one would have thought.

St Hilary of Poitiers

St Hilary was born in Poitiers at the beginning of the fourth century and elected bishop of the city in 350. He fought strongly against Arianism and because of his teaching was exiled by the Emperor Constantius. His works are full of wisdom and learning, always directed to the strengthening of the orthodox, Catholic faith and the right interpretation of Holy Scripture. He died on 13th January 368 or , some accounts say, 1st November 367.  He was named a Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1851. 
"Bestow on us then the right use of terms, give light to our understanding and an agreeable style to our words, grant us loyalty to the truth. Grant that what we believe we may also speak, about you the one God he Father, and the one Lord Jesus Christ, as we learn from the apostles and prophets, and that we may succeed now in proclaiming against the denial of the heretics that you are God, yet not alone, and in preaching Jesus Christ as true and no false God."   
St Hilary:  De Trin 1: 37-38

All wisdom cometh from the Lord - Philip Moore - sung by the St. Albans Cathedral Choir with soloist Kenneth Burgess, Andrew Parnell (organ) and directed by Barry Rose.

Sunday 12 January 2014

Silly names

What is it about  our contemporary culture which makes parents want to pass on their own misplaced sense of individuality or tribal identity in the names they inflict on their children? As in most things, the more strenuously we strive to be different, the more we end up just running with the herd.

On the one hand - even in the leafier parts of the country - clergy are asked to baptise children with the names of professional footballers, pop singers or antipodean soap stars - how do you say 'Kylie' without that fatal upward inflection of the voice? 

These days it's increasingly necessary to ask one of two questions: either, 'How do you spell that?' or 'How do you pronounce that?' - neither of which exactly endears one to the parents... 
However, Christian names as such - the names of Saints - are in short supply.
I remember as a (not particularly callow) curate being taken to task for misspelling a name on a baptismal certificate:  in fact, 'Chelsie' - not, as I thought, ..... as in Kensington ....

And, to be even handed, there's also the tendency among the more affluent middle classes to go for the obscure, the precious or the downright silly, if not actually Wagnerian. 

On the other hand, if a child can learn to overcome that particular handicap, they're set up for life ....  (say I, who inherited a particularly silly surname ....)

But this is Father George Rutler making a very serious point: 
 "Conferring a name in baptism signals an intensity in our relationship with God, who “adopts” us as his sons and daughters. Pope Benedict XVI once baptized twenty-one babies in just one month, and said: “Every baptized child acquires the character of the son of God, beginning with their Christian name, an unmistakable sign that the Holy Spirit causes men to be born anew in the womb of the Church.” So it is salutary to be careful in choosing names that identify with the great saints who have gone before us. The first pope to change his name upon election was John II in 533. He did so because his father had named him for the pagan god Mercury. The more pagan a culture becomes, the more it lapses into pagan and even downright silly names. There is, however, the hope that the grace of baptism can make even someone burdened with a fashionably pagan name, a saint. Saint John Vianney said, “Not all the saints started well, but all of them ended well.”  

Endings and discontinuities

A tradition worth keeping - the Crib stays up until Candlemas

Christmastide ends today:

 "... So that before the end, the eightieth Christmas 
(By “eightieth” meaning whichever is last) 
The accumulated memories of annual emotion 
May be concentrated into a great joy 
Which shall be also a great fear, as on the occasion 
When fear came upon every soul: 
Because the beginning shall remind us of the end 
And the first coming of the second coming."

T.S. Eliot: from 'The Cultivation of Christmas Trees' (1954)

There's a round up of recent and growing criticism of mid to late twentieth century reforms of the Western Church Calendar [here] at the New Liturgical Movement.  The Calendar's purpose, the sanctification of time, matters greatly to each and every Christian.

Interestingly, despite the present turmoil in matters of faith and order and our liturgists' and theologians' tendency to follow Rome in liberal inessentials rather than in those conservative essentials where she should always be followed, most Anglican calendar revisions have not gone quite so radically down the same road; to take a current example, the 'Epiphany Season' has not been abolished; although, for all kinds of reasons, to retain the Sundays 'after' Epiphany would have been much preferable to the present Sundays 'of' Epiphany, and the option to continue the Christmastide liturgical colour as white seems confusing and unnecessarily innovatory, akin to the invention (or importation) of the 'red' pre-Advent 'Sundays of the Kingdom' in some provinces ...   
The option to observe Candlemas as of seasonal importance does, however, provide a continuing link to the tradition.

In these days of rupture and discontinuity we have to find such tiny crumbs of comfort where we can ....  for us, paradoxically, while we survive among the wreckage, even 'local usages' may provide a way back to calendrical sanity.

Nous n'irons plus au bois, les lauriers sont coupés 

Saturday 11 January 2014

From banality to banality advancing

“Long my imprisoned spirit lay” wrote Charles Wesley in a famous hymn about his religious conversion. “I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free, 
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” He then goes on “No condemnation now I dread”. It was not, of course, a hymn about coming out of the closet, but about discovering and being able to speak the truth about oneself - and how liberating such truth-telling can be.Nonetheless, these experiences are remarkably similar. “I am what I am and what I am needs no excuses” wrote Gloria Gaynor in a rather different sort of anthem. And St John put it even more pithily: “The truth will set you free.”
- Canon Giles Fraser speaking on yesterday's BBC Radio 4 'Thought for the Day ' -

Most would say that Charles Wesley,  far from intending to speak the truth about himself, was rejoicing in the Christian's new-found faith in Christ, his Saviour, who alone takes our sins away: 'Jesus, and all in Him, is mine' ....
I can't speak for Gloria Gaynor.

But .... thanks anyway for enlivening (pithily, but in a really bad way) a dull Friday morning.. 

Friday 10 January 2014

'Driven into corners to preserve themselves' - Archbishop William Laud

The trial of Archbishop Laud - Wenceslaus Hollar

On this day in 1645, the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Laud, was executed after a Parliamentary Act of Attainder, like Strafford before him. 
" man took care to defend him that had defended so many; which yet I speak not to impute anything to men of my own calling, who, I presume, would have lent me their just defence, to their power; had not the same storm which drove against my life, driven them into corners to preserve themselves...." 

"Yesterday’s journey is done, my boy, think about tomorrow's...."

This is a passage I came across in Spain as a somewhat weary pilgrim at the end of a day's walking on the Camino de Santiago. It resonated with me then and still does ..... This is the translation by Pansy Pakenham. Despite Péguy's influence on the poetry of Geoffrey Hill, there isn't an English translation now in print, although the Pakenham version is online here

"Wash and tidy yourself at bedtime. 
That’s what self-examination means. 
One doesn’t go on washing all the time.
Be like the pilgrim who takes holy water as he goes into the church
And who makes the sign of the Cross. Then he goes into the church.
And he does not go on taking holy water all the time, 
And the church is not furnished exclusively with holy water stoups.
There is that which is before the threshold. There is that which is on the threshold,
And there is that which is in the house.
You must go in once and not go in and out all the time.
Be like the pilgrim who sees nothing but the sanctuary,
And who hears nothing else.
And who sees nothing but the altar where my Son has been sacrificed so many times.
Imitate the pilgrim who sees nothing but the radiance
Of the glory of my Son.
Enter my night as into my house. For there I have reserved
The right to be master.
And if you are absolutely determined to offer me something
At night when going to bed
Let it be first a thanksgiving
For all the services I do you
For the innumerable benefits which I daily heap on you
Which I have heaped on you this very day.
Thank me first of all, that is the most urgent
And that is also the fairest:
Thereafter let your self-examination
Be a cleansing once for all
And not a dawdling over spots and stains.
Yesterday’s journey is done, my boy, think about to-morrow's,
And of your salvation which is at the end of to-morrow’s journey,
It is too late for yesterday. But it is not too late for to-morrow, 
And for your salvation which is at the end of to-morrow’s journey."

The Mystery of the Holy Innocents: Charles Péguy

Thursday 9 January 2014

Monty Python & Biblical Exegesis?

From John Bingham The Telegraph here:
"...It was once denounced as blasphemous and an insult to Christians, but one of Britain’s most respected theologians insists that Monty Python’s Life of Brian, is in fact a “remarkable tribute to the life of Jesus”.
The Rev Prof Richard Burridge, Dean of King’s College London, and a member of the Church of England's General Synod, said that those who called for the satire to be banned after its release in 1979 were “embarrassingly” ill-informed and missed a major opportunity to promote the Christian message.
Prof Burridge, whom Pope Francis recently presented with the Vatican’s top theological award, the first non-Roman Catholic to receive it, said that the film’s depiction of faction-ridden messianic movements in First Century Judea was probably a more accurate portrayal of the historical context than many Hollywood films about Jesus.
He was speaking as Michael Palin devoted a slot on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, which he was invited to guest edit, to reliving the controversy over the film.
Palin and John Cleese were publicly castigated by the then Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Rev Mervyn Stockwood, and the Catholic journalist Malcolm Muggeridge in a high profile televised confrontation over the film. The bishop remarked that they would receive their "30 pieces of silver" for it....  
.....[Prof Burridge] said: “What is interesting about what Cleese says is that when they sat down to read the gospels they were struck by Jesus, his teaching, and realised that you couldn’t actually make a joke of these things which is why the accusation from Mervyn Stockwood and Malcolm Muggeridge that they were trying to use Jesus was so patently false.
“I think it is an extraordinary tribute to the life and work and teaching of Jesus – that they couldn’t actually blaspheme or make a joke out of it......."
Well .... maybe .. 
Some parts of the film were very, very amusing (that could just be my schoolboy sense of humour)  although I still have huge misgivings about the final scenes - not meant to be about Our Lord, perhaps, but shockingly trivialising nonetheless.
'The Meaning of Life'  was far nastier in its undisguised attempt to satirise the Faith  .... and, tellingly, nowhere near as funny. 
Although, we have had much worse to contend with since - now almost on a daily basis and much of it subsidised by the BBC licence fee - in other words, you and me ... 

There is an interesting article by Ian Markham in this month's First Things about Richard Burridge's work. You will have to subscribe to read it, but the subscription is worth every penny ....  

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Things which have slipped under the radar

Mine, at least, over the Christmas holiday - ecclesiastical / political stuff, mainly

Forward in Faith, North America responds to the C of E's Pilling Report [here]: 
"We recognize that the recommendations of the Pilling Report are primarily for reflection and discussion by the Church of England's House of Bishops.
Nonetheless, under the authority of holy scripture and tradition of the church, we affirm that sexual activity can only properly take place within the context of holy matrimony between a man and woman.
We affirm that any other type of sexual relationship is sinful regardless of context or degree of fidelity, and that the church cannot bless any type of sexual relationship outside of holy matrimony between a man and woman."
And, we can be sure that a substantive change in marriage discipline, an overthrowing of the Christian faith's traditional view of human sexuality, will be regarded by many in the 'western' Anglican provinces as the 'logical' next step; it's far from logical, much less theological, but in the opinion of many commentators now probably inevitable as pressure continues to build from within...  [More here from Canada. The trajectory of these commissions is always depressingly clear from the start

It's interesting to see 'St Jim's Ecclesiastical Plant. Piccadilly' living up to its well-deserved reputation under its new-ish manageress: of course, they've always loved a controversial gimmick. The political one-sidedness of the visual effect of their stage set 'wall' seems to be  in stark contradiction to their stated aim in erecting it. A response in The Spectator here 
Meanwhile the exodus of Palestinian Christians, trapped amongst the regional complexities of Saudi-funded Islamic fundamentalism, ultra-Orthodox Jewish expansionism and genuine Israeli security concerns, goes on. 

A glimmer of hope for Egypt's Christians? A new draft constitution is unveiled [here]
Of course, it's not so much what a constitution says that is important, it's how it is interpreted on the ground...

And in Christmas messages, Archbishops comment publicly on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East [here] and the first Christmas homily of Pope Francis [reported here]

Russian President Vladimir Putin lays claim to be the new champion of traditional, Christian values  [here and hereThere's not a great deal of competition - certainly not from the present leaders of the West ...

The Ordinariate in Britain establishes its first religious community in Maryvale and ordains a deacon in Wales  [here
And a pretty good attempt by the Vatican to define the much sought-after but elusive Anglican liturgical patrimony [here

Pope Francis restricts the use of the honorific title of 'monsignor' for diocesan clergy [hereand an interesting (and naive?)  response [here]  

How would it be possible to help curb Anglican careerism, one wonders?  - Anglican careerism - surely not! [Ed] 
A first step would be the abandonment of those secular-style 'job interviews' introduced a while ago (and the disastrously worldly ethos which goes with them) which encourage applicants to say how absolutely brilliant they are...  

But as so often, the best comment on all this is here

And this recent photo is certainly the best of 2014 so far ....

Tuesday 7 January 2014

Christmas is not over yet

Having been woken up in the early hours of the morning with yet another Atlantic storm battering the bedroom windows and, I have to admit, feeling rather sorry for myself in the grip of a throat virus, I think it's not surprising that this is, so they tell us, the most depressing time of the year. The Christmas holidays are over, the winter weather has - at least - another two months to run before the tentative arrival of the British spring. It's dark, it's wet , it's miserable.
But ..... Christmas isn't over yet. Whatever the 'Twelfth Night' customs may be, the season doesn't end until Sunday. 
And the Crib stays up in church until Candlemas.....

This is part of an article, 'The Redemption of Time: The Christian Calendar as Civil Disobedience' by David Henson, giving one American's take on the end of the Christmas Season.  Read it all here 
"....This is the quiet power and justice of the Christian calendar. It offers us a chance to resist absolute conformity to the timetables of consumerism, to push back against a culture that requires us to find our worth in things, to stand defiantly against a calendar that hurries us past meaningful pauses and refuses to let us rest in peace.Christmas is not over, I keep reminding my friends (who roll their eyes). Leave up the tree, the decorations, the poinsettias, the Nativity. Slow down. Be in the moment and let Christmas continue to fill you with wonder. Cultivate Christmas. Or better yet, let Christmas cultivate you!There is a subversiveness to slowing down time that makes us uncomfortable because it forces us not to conform with the norms of consumer society. And difference, in a hegemonic consumer culture, is frowned upon; it creates cracks in a facade through which people might imagine another world, a better world.
In allowing the seasons of our faith to supplant the seasons of our shopping, Christians can begin to reject the wisdom of a consumeristic empire that says time can only serve mammon. It fights against the schedules of monetary time and the measuring of days in coffeespoons. It protests the notion that our months are billing cycles, our weeks meted out in paychecks rather than in meals with our families, memories with our friends, worship with our faith communities.The Christian calendar offers us an exit from consumeristic world, a path that will help to pull back the satiating veil of consumerism that hides its injustices and abuses to which we have all been contributors.To celebrate Christmas on Jan. 3, when we are all returning back to work, is a most basic act of civil disobedience, a simple act of justice, a spiritual discipline. To celebrate Christmas when others are rushing into the false hope of a new year is a reminder that our time is precious and should be savored rather than offered for sale. To continue to celebrate Christmas when it is already being forgotten is to begin to wake from the fog of consumerism to the new reality of the birth of Christ and the Reign of God.To celebrate Christmas today is to begin to squeeze ourselves and our camels through the needle’s eye...."
A 'basic act of civil disobedience'? A necessary resistance to the passing distractions of consumerism? - Perhaps, but only as a by-product of our observance of 'the circling year' on the long and tortuous road to the salvation of our souls and, yes, the Christian business of the redemption of time. All time is sacred and Christ is its Lord.

And from today's Office of Readings: 
"...In the mystery of our Lord’s incarnation there were clear indications of his eternal Godhead. Yet the great events we celebrate today disclose and reveal in different ways the fact that God himself took a human body. Mortal man, enshrouded always in darkness, must not be left in ignorance, and so be deprived of what he can understand and retain only by grace.
    In choosing to be born for us, God chose to be known by us. He therefore reveals himself in this way, in order that this great sacrament of his love may not be an occasion for us of great misunderstanding.
    Today the Magi find, crying in a manger, the one they have followed as he shone in the sky. Today the Magi see clearly, in swaddling clothes, the one they have long awaited as he lay hidden among the stars.
    Today the Magi gaze in deep wonder at what they see: heaven on earth, earth in heaven, man in God, God in man, one whom the whole universe cannot contain now enclosed in a tiny body. As they look, they believe and do not question, as their symbolic gifts bear witness: incense for God, gold for a king, myrrh for one who is to die...." 
St Peter Chrysologus